Elite degree doesn’t matter for STEM grads

Graduating from an elite college doesn’t boost earnings for science, math and engineering graduates, conclude Eric R. Eide and Michael J. Hilmer in the Wall Street Journal. A prestige degree does help business and liberal-arts majors, according to the Journal‘s analysis of a survey of graduates.

STEM grads with a degree from a low-priced state university earn as much as those from elite private schools, they found.

The analysis controlled for “factors that might influence earnings, such as family income, race/ethnicity, gender, marital status, SAT score, postgraduate degree and age at graduation and more.”

In STEM fields, “curriculums are relatively standardized and there’s a commonly accepted body of knowledge students must absorb,” write Eide and Hilmer. Employers seem to be looking for skills rather than prestige.

Assessing a job applicant’s competence is harder if the degree is in what we used to call “fuzzy studies.”

College graduates’ “well-being” — financial security, health, sense of purpose and other factors — isn’t related to their alma mater’s selectivity, size or whether it was public or private, concluded the Gallup-Purdue Index in 2014.

Gallup will use its Well-Being Index  to certify universities that produce the happiest graduates. George Mason is the first university to seek  certification.

In schools, teacher quality matters most

Teacher quality is the most important schooling variable that affects student achievement — and life success, concludes Dan Goldhaber in Education Next.

Some teacher characteristics — gender, age, a master’s degree and “even state certification of competence” — make little or no difference, Goldhaber writes.

By contrast, “students assigned to high-value-added teachers are more likely to graduate from high school, go to college, be employed, and earn higher wages,” according to Stanford researchers led by Raj Chetty.

Teachers are professionals — not missionaries

Teachers are skilled professionals — not missionaries, writes Amanda Ripley in The Washingtonian. Talking about teaching as a low-status career for the selfless drives away the smart, ambitious people the profession needs.

In Washington, D.C., public school teachers earn as much or more than other college-educated professionals, Ripley writes. Median pay was $75,000 last year and “teachers who work in low-income public schools and get strong performance reviews can earn more than $125,000 after fewer than ten years.”

In addition, teachers can “apply to become master educators, who formally evaluate teachers and provide targeted feedback.”

Yet, “many people still talk about teachers as if they volunteer in a soup kitchen—as if the hardest part is just showing up,” she writes.

Hope Harrod, DC’s 2012 Teacher of the Year, is tired of being told she’s doing “God’s work.” Teaching is not a sacrifice for her. It’s an “intellectual journey” she finds “deeply engaging.”

By “intellectual journey,” Harrod means the workplace questions that teachers grapple with daily: Why is Juan insisting that the answer is 15.5 and not 18? What’s happening in his head that isn’t happening in Scarlette’s head? How can she give him the tools to take apart his own process and rebuild it, piece by piece?

D.C. “now retains about 92 percent of its highest-ranked teachers,” writes Ripley. Boosting pay and status makes a difference.

That issue comes up in a Tampa Bay Tribune story about a veteran teacher who quit to become a librarian, complaining of mandatory lesson plans, endless meetings and micromanagement.

The profession of teaching comes in for a lot of “bashing,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “The unions and reformers and legislators, whoever, are telling you that teaching is a lousy job and nobody lets you do it the way you want to do it. It has a way of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Idea: Make it easy to try teaching, hard to stay

To get better teachers, should schools make it harder to qualify as a teacher? No, make it easier and cheaper to try teaching, argue Chad Aldeman and Ashley LiBetti Mitchel in a new Bellwether report. Let would-be teachers try tutoring or co-teaching with a mentor. Fire those who don’t work out.

It’s hard to predict who will be a good teacher, they write. Teacher training or earning a master’s degree makes little difference. There’s some evidence that new teachers with stronger academic credentials are more effective, but “the value of those credentials is relatively small, and they are not a guarantee for any individual.”

So why not open teaching to anyone with a bachelor’s degree, then focus “on measuring and acting on teacher effectiveness in a teacher’s first years on the job.”

Districts should have the authority to license teachers based on “observations of candidates’ performance in real-time classroom settings and demonstrated effectiveness in supporting students’ academic growth.”

It’s a “radically sensible proposal,” writes Matt Barnum on The Seventy Four.  “Give novices the opportunity to learn on the job and figure out whether teaching is right for them, without sinking thousands of dollars into teacher training programs.”

New teachers with low value-added scores usually remain below average, if they remain in the classroom, Allison Atteberry tells Aldeman. Some will improve significantly, but most do not.

District of Columbia Public Schools are replacing low-performing teachers with teachers who are increasing student achievement, according to a newly published working paper.

‘Teachers’ debuts on TV

TV Land’s new series, Teachers, is “really funny at times” and “a little bit raunchy,” writes Mark Walsh in Education Week.

The Katydids, an all-female improv group (all are named some version of Kate or Caitlin), based the show on a series of shorts called Teachers, a Web Series, set in a suburban elementary school.

Hollywood Reporter calls Teachers “wonderfully loose.”

However, the New York Times says the show “mistakes crass for cutting edge” and was better as a web series.

Using nature to nurture

The classroom is outdoors at The Alaska Forest School, reports Erin Kirkland in the Alaska Dispatch News.

Lia Keller asked preschoolers if they could “find the tunnel from last time” and they led the way to a downed cottonwood, where they could play “foxes and bears” in a pit under the root ball.

Leif Stanbury, 3, catches a snowflake.

Leif Stanbury, 3, catches a snowflake. Photo: Loren Holmes, ADN

“I am passionate about getting children outside,” said Keller, who founded the school. “Kids have to get out as young as possible so they learn how to explore and foster a deep love of nature and our wild places.

She also believes “children need more unstructured time” to learn from their play.

Keller offers parents three sessions a week.

Elliott and Harriet Levine, aged 4 and 8, climb under the eyes of mother Maria Levine. The school encourages kids to take "appropriate risks." Photo: Loren Holmes, ADN

Elliott and Harriet Levine, aged 4 and 8, climb under the eyes of mother Maria Levine. The school encourages kids to take “appropriate risks.” Photo: Loren Holmes, ADN

The forest school idea started in Europe, but has spread around the world. It seems like a perfect fit for Alaska, says Beka Land, whose daughters are five and three. “The natural consequences of exploring the outdoors and talking through choices is so valuable,” Land said. “As a family, we like the idea of an outdoors-centered program that lets kids pick their own path.”

After 30 minutes of “hollering, discovering and exploring,” the preschoolers were full of questions, writes Kirkland.

Why does snow look like crystals under the frame of a magnifying glass? What happens when you try to climb a tree much taller than your mom and way higher than any recess monitor would ever allow? How can five small kids figure out how to tie up a blue tarp without adult assistance?

Keller answered many questions with: “What do you think we should do?”

I saw the link on OneTree Alaska, a Facebook site set up by Jan Dawe, a University of Alaska botanist who was my best friend in elementary school. We were co-editors-in-chief of The Wednesday Report, which we published twice a month for four years.

College prep, job training — or both?

While most high school graduates go on to college, “nearly 40 percent of those who go to four-year colleges and some 70 percent of students at community college will never earn their degree,” comments John Tulenko on PBS NewsHour. Should more teens train for the workforce instead of prepping for college?

Marissa Galloway, Norton learned cabinet making at Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical School. Photo: Mike George

Marissa Galloway learned cabinet making at Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical School. Photo: Mike George

“It’s the shame of our nation, when you look at, a student comes out of high school, not knowing what they want to do, goes to college, drops out,” says David Wheeler, principal of Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School, south of Boston. “Now they’re in debt, without a job, and not knowing what they want to do.”

In addition to academic subjects, students at Massachusetts’ regional vo-tech schools learn skilled trades.

They do as well academically as students in traditional high schools. (Wheeler’s students outscored the state average.)

They don’t have to “skip college,” as Tulenko puts it. Statewide, 60 percent of regional vo-tech students enroll in college, while others go directly to the workforce.

Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed expanding the state’s vo-tech schools.

Study: Louisiana voucher students do worse

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Voucher students couldn’t stem declining enrollment at Our Lady of Grace School, which was closed by the Archdiocese of New Orleans last year. Photo: Brett Duke, Times-Picayune

Voucher students who left a low-performing Louisiana school for a private school did worse academically — especially in math — than classmates who stayed, concludes a new working paper on the first year of the Lousiana Scholarship Program.

Younger children did the worst, according to the team of Berkeley, Duke and MIT researchers.

Catholic schools serving black students — most with declining enrollment — signed up most of the voucher students. “Struggling private schools may opt in to the voucher program to combat stagnating enrollment,” the researchers noted.

One third of voucher students attend low-performing private schools that “have been barred from taking new voucher students,” reported the Times-Picayune last year.

It could be a short-term effect, but “the size of the negative math impact is pretty large,” Patrick Wolf, a University of Arkansas education professor told the Times-Picayune. Wolf’s two-year study of the voucher program will be published soon. “The results are different in interesting ways,” he said.

Louisiana’s voucher program, which is the fifth-largest in the country, provides about 6,700 students with about $5,300 per student. Only students from families with incomes below 250 percent of the federal poverty line – meaning $60,625 for a family of four, for example – and those whose public school has been labeled by the state as low-performing qualify for the voucher.

“A broader set of evidence” shows positive effects for vouchers, said Wolf. He cited a 2012 evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program which found higher high school graduation and college enrollment rates.

States drop exams, give retroactive diplomas

States are dropping exit exams and giving retroactive high school diplomas to former students who never passed the exam, reports Catherine Gewertz in Education Week.

Georgia, Texas and South Carolina have issued thousands of diplomas to people who passed high school courses but failed the exit exam.In California, 35,000 or more people could qualify for diplomas. Arizona and Alaska also will issue retroactive diplomas.

Misty Hatcher is working toward a degree as a networking specialist at Lanier Technical College in Oakwood, Ga. --Melissa Golden for Education Week

Misty Hatcher, who received a retroactive diploma, is working toward a networking degree at Lanier Technical College in Oakwood, Ga. Photo: Melissa Golden, Education Week

“States are eliminating comprehensive tests in math and English/language arts in favor of end-of-course tests or other measures of high school achievement,” reports Gewertz. Many argue exit exams are “useless because they’re often pegged to 8th- or 9th-grade-level skills.”

That is, the exit exams were too easy.

California dropped its exam because it wasn’t aligned to Common Core State Standards. That is, it was too easy.

So people who couldn’t pass a test of eighth- and ninth-grade skills will receive high school diplomas.

Only 13 states still require students to pass an exit exam to earn a diploma, down from 25 in 2012, according to Jennifer Zinth of Education Commission of the States. Some states are now dropping end-of-course exams too.

They’re too hard.

Hanna Frank, Education Post’s social media manager, threw away her high school diploma, knowing she hadn’t earned it. She took remedial courses at her local community college, using up most of her financial aid, and managed to earn a bachelor’s degree in five years.

Opt-out leaders reject NY test changes

An anti-testing rally at Brooklyn New School and the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies in March. Photo: Justin Weiner

New York students will take untimed tests this spring, said Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia.

“Thousands of students boycotted last year’s tests, prompting Gov. Andrew Cuomo to form a testing task force that called for a complete overhaul of the state’s learning standards and assessments,” reports Chalkbeat NY.

Elia also promised to give teachers more say in reviewing test questions and to shorten the length of tests.

Opt-out leaders weren’t impressed, saying parents won’t be appeased by minor changes.

“This is a pretty useless response to the opt-out movement,” Brooklyn teacher Jessica Klonsky wrote on Facebook. “People were not opting their children out of the tests because they didn’t have enough time to take them. They opted out because the tests and their preparation take up too much time as it is. Now they are going to take up more time!”

“More time for students to be frustrated on flawed state tests isn’t the answer,” Carl Korn, a state teachers’ union spokesman, responded in a statement.